A putrid smell emanated from a building in Toliara. But it smelled so horrible, no one wanted to go anywhere near it. But eventually, the regional head of Madagascar’s environmental agency Soary Randrianjafizanaka could not deny the problem anymore. She approached the building and asked the local police officer and an environmental colleague to join her. She was not comfortable going in there alone.
After obtaining the proper legal documentation, they opened the door. Soary could never have prepared for what was inside. The stench slapped her across the face and left her distraught.
Inside the room, there were thousands of radiated tortoises. This endangered species covered the entire floor and was being hoarded as part of a black market trade scheme.
“You cannot imagine. It was so awful,” Soary told National Geographic.
The tortoises themselves were not stinky. It was their urine and feces that had accumulated on the floor from days of thousands of these reptiles living together.
Soary added, “They had tortoises in the bathroom, in the kitchen, everywhere in the house.”
Soary and her team searched every corner of the home. When they were doing counting the endangered species, they found 9,888 living tortoises crammed in the abode. Among the living ones were 180 dead ones.
Because the tortoises were left in the home, they needed to be removed and brought to a sanctuary. Soary organized the arrival of six trucks. And then the animal rescuers worked around the clock to make trips to and from Turtle Village where the tortoises would find a place to recover. The location is a wildlife rehabilitation facility that was 18 miles from the building where all the life forms were stored.
Over the next few weeks, veterinarian Na Aina Tiana Rakotoarisoa was brought to tears. 574 tortoises died over the next few weeks because they were severely dehydrated and underfed. They also suffered from infections probably due to the fact that they had been abandoned to swim around in their feces and urine. Thankfully, the remaining tortoises survived despite the hellish circumstances.
Authorities are at a loss as to who put the animals through such terror. The owner of the house a woman and two men have been arrested. When authorities arrived, the men were burying dead tortoises on the property. While they were caught in the act, Soary does not know if they’re the masterminds behind the black market plot.
“We don’t know exactly who the big person is, but we know there’s a big boss,” she said.
The president of the US-based Turtle Survival Alliance, Rick Hudson, has stepped up to help the rescue efforts. He admits that the small tortoises would have been smuggled out of the country. The large ones would have been forced to breed.
National Geographic reported that “taking radiated tortoises from the forests is illegal in Madagascar, and a treaty signed by 182 countries and the European Union bans commercial trade of the species.”
Nevertheless, criminals can still find buyers for the rare tortoises. Good thing people like Soary aim to stop them.
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